Ha Long Bay

Karsting my eyes out to sea

A scenic retreat was in order after the nightmare that was Hanoi. Cat Ba island – and more specifically the karst formations out to sea – proved just the natural remedy I needed.

It was a 2 hour bus ride (accompanied with a soundtrack of an X-factor style Vietnamese karaoke) and an hour on a speedboat to get to Cat Ba. I elected against going on a package ‘booze cruise’ tour in my attempt to get away from the party crowd, and save some cash. Just off the main pier I found an incredible value $29 tour with Cat Ba Ventures for the whole day which proved to be thoroughly enjoyable.

The cruise was through La Han bay which is well away from the main tourist routes, and had the added advantage of being far less polluted than Ha Long bay, where we passed through later. Although the weather was poor early in the morning, luckily it stopped raining the moment the kayaks came out. We spent about an hour kayaking through caves and lakes throughout the bay.

Sharing a kayak with our guide

Sharing a kayak with our guide

Later after a huge and delicious lunch we got the chance to jump off the boat and into the sea to swim around (here’s a hint: if ever you plan on jumping into water from a height, it’s a good idea to not do what I did every time and land chest first. It hurts!) The water was extra refreshing now that the day had heated up; it almost felt like swimming in a jacuzzi. Later we moored up in another bay where I temporarily abandoned the boat and swam to my own island. It was true bliss to have some personal space for an afternoon.

Overall I had a really great day with Cat Ba Ventures. Amazing scenery, food, organisation, and tour guide (though I found it hilarious and slightly worrying that he couldn’t swim!). And all 5-10 times cheaper than similar tours advertised in tourist brochures. It goes to show how going cheap doesn’t always involve compromise. Sometimes putting the effort to shop around pays dividends – especially so when on a backpacker budget.


Next: Tunnel Vision

About the Author